Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oregon strawberries are the best!

6/23/10 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Oregon strawberries are the best!

A couple of weeks ago I was in Junction City (with my husband at the hot rod show) and happened upon a fruit stand with freshly picked strawberries — the first of the season. They were to die for. Unlike the huge, tasteless and perfectly formed imported berries that we find in the supermarket, these berries were soft, sweet and red all the way through. Honestly, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Simply put, Oregon strawberries are the best. However, our strawberry season is so short that by the time you read this it may be over! It’s one of those “now you see them, now you don’t” crops. So if you haven’t already done so, you’d better head out and pick up a flat or two before they’re gone.

This year I plan on buying extras to freeze. We do grow our own berries but we usually only get enough daily to enjoy at breakfast or after dinner on ice cream. Now, I don’t have great success with freezing fruit. I freeze them whole, without sugar and put them in a far corner of the freezer. By the time I find them the following year —they’re ‘dead.’ The freezer has sucked all the life out of them.

The first thing to remember when freezing berries is to always begin with firm, fully ripe berries; wash only a few at a time in cold water or a colander. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel and remove the hulls. At this point, strawberries can be placed on a baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, removed and packaged in self-sealing plastic bags or as desired.

This year I’m going to freeze berries using the dry-sugar pack method. They can be frozen without sugar but in my experience, the quality will suffer. If using sugar, it is also recommended that crystalline ascorbic acid be added to the sugar to preserve the color. Follow the directions on the package, usually 1/2-teaspoon per pint; 1 teaspoon per quart.

To freeze using the dry-sugar pack method, halve, quarter or slice clean berries into a bowl or shallow pan. Sprinkle 1/3 cup (or more) sugar over berries for each quart of fruit. Gently turn berries repeatedly until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Package in pint or quart containers, leaving a head space of 1/2-inch for pints and 1-inch for quarts. Label and don’t forget to use them!

Today’s recipes are not your usual, pie, ice cream or cake assortment. They’re fun. They’re not practical. “Simply Strawberries” and the “Chilled Strawberry Soup” are so simple that it’s embarrassing. I suggest serving them as a light dessert after a heavy dinner. The “Strawberry Custard Tart” is a little more complicated but not much. It is sinfully delicious served with iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. Enjoy!

Simply Strawberries

Fresh strawberries, washed and dried
1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

Arrange strawberries in a large bowl or on a large platter.
Put sour cream and brown sugar into two separate small bowls.
To serve, let each guest dip a strawberry into sour cream and then into brown sugar. Or, instead of the communal dipping, have guests put a spoonful of each on individual plates before the dipping begins.

Chilled Strawberry-Mint Soup

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
Fresh strawberry slices, kiwi fruit slices, or fresh mint sprigs

In a food processor or blender, place the strawberries, sour cream, heavy cream, orange juice, and honey; whirl until smooth. Stir in mint. Taste for sweetness; if necessary, add more honey.

Refrigerate until well chilled. To serve, put into cold soup bowls and top with strawberry slices, kiwi fruit slices, or mint sprigs. Serves 2.

Fresh Strawberry Custard Tart

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup butter, cut into tablespoon-size slices
1 egg yolks
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 quart large ripe whole, hulled strawberries (see note below)
Pinch of freshly-grated lemon zest (rind)
Fruit Glaze (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a food processor, combine flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and baking powder. Pulse once or twice. Add butter by tablespoons and process until butter is incorporated and mixture is reduced to small crumbs (it will not form a ball).

Pour crumb mixture into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press crumbs gently over the bottom and halfway up sides of pan, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Do not pack mixture down too firmly. Bake for 10 minutes.

While crust is baking, combine egg yolks, sour cream, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.

Remove baked crust from oven and immediately pour sour cream mixture into the hot crust. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, and then refrigerator until serving time.

When ready to serve, arrange whole strawberries on top of the custard. Lightly brush the strawberries with the Fruit Glaze. To serve, lift the tart from the side of the pan and place on a serving dish or cake plate.

Fruit Glaze:
2 tablespoons apricot jam (or jelly of your choice)
2 tablespoons water

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the jelly and water until syrupy; remove from heat and let cool.

*Note: This is actually easier to serve and eat if you halve or even slice the strawberries and artistically arrange them.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal! Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare. Contact her at 942-1317 or email

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